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Buyer's Guide
‘Lloyd’s Silver’ Jerusalem sage
 
ZONES: 7 to 10
CONDITIONS: Full sun; well-drained soil

This is an evergreen shrub with attributes aplenty throughout the year. Strangely, we regard it most favorably in the dead of win-ter, long after its excellent midsummer yellow flowers are but a memory on the computer photo album. The Royal Horticultural Society granted ‘Lloyd’s Silver’ Jerusalem sage an Award of Gar-den Merit (AGM)—but, more personally, we love it so much that we gave it a prime spot in our first display bed at the nursery.
This is a tough Turkish species that calls open stony hillsides home and is notable for its cold tolerance and height, which, in the wild, can reach 9 feet in venerable specimens. Most plants, however, stay smaller, especially when given an annual early spring coppicing to promote a low, dense domed habit with lots of flow-ers. We’re easily distracted, especially if a task isn’t absolutely necessary, so our Jerusalem sage has never been savaged by prun-ers. Now in its 15th year, our plant is 8 feet tall and nearly 15 feet wide. Speaking of being savaged, here in deer-torn Port Townsend, Washington, ‘Lloyd’s Silver’ Jerusalem sage has never been so much as glanced at by the cloven-hoofed minions of Satan.
Although its habit is dense, it is open enough to provide tantaliz-ing glimpses of the stout trunks and branches clad in layers of pale bark, which shred off in longitudinal sheets. The new foliage is a silver, olive-gray velour, which plays well with the scented flowers. The blooms are held proudly on 12- to 18-inch stems above the leaves. They look for all the world like some celebrity chef’s pre-sentation of orange lollipops—orange halves peeled and inverted, then blanched quickly in Champagne and served skewered singly on mindfully harvested Jerusalem sage twigs.
This is seemingly the high point in this plant’s year, but it’s a false summit because it is in winter that this shrub looks about for peers and finds none. Perennials have been cut back, leaves have dropped off the deciduous woodies, and our border is left with only grumpy conifers—except for ‘Lloyd’s Silver’ Jerusalem sage, whose pale gray leaves shine with a strength of purpose. We don’t need 50 shades of gray to satisfy us; one good shade will do.

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken grow some of the coolest plants on the planet at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.
‘Ruby’ gladiolus (Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’)
 
USDA hardiness zones: 7 to 9
Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Whenever we hear the word “ruby” mentioned, our thoughts always center on the gemstone and its ties to India and old Burma and their sensory overload of color, architecture, and din of life. The next thing we think of is the deep ruby color of a good pinot, especially as it swirls in a glass lit by firelight. Now that we have ‘Ruby’ gladiolus in our garden, this plant has become our mental screensaver, capturing and concentrating both the essence and nuance of silk and sadhu, wine and mood.

This hybrid retains the sophisticated poise of the species, but with everything good amplified. Narrow foliage with flower stems nearly 3 feet tall carry the mid- to late-summer flowers, which are a Freudian red and so intensely saturated, you can’t help but think of mating and mayhem. Fortunately, most of us have watched enough Game of Thrones that our evolutionary hardwiring can generally handle the stimuli.

‘Ruby’ gladiolus is popular in the United Kingdom but not well-known in the United States. It’s surprisingly hardy in the ground of our Zone 7 garden and easily handles our short dips into the low teens and, rarely, single digits. If given a deep covering of mulch, we suspect that this beauty could persevere in Zone 6 gardens. For those in even cooler locales, this glad can be grown in a pot and overwintered in a frost-free but cool spot (like an unheated garage). The plant increases by offsets readily, and it won’t be many years before you have an impressively sultry stand of it. Before this happens, however, you might want to have a therapist lined up.

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken grow some of the coolest plants on the planet at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.
‘Stardust’ Asiatic gentian (Gentiana sino-ornata ‘Stardust’)
 

USDA hardiness zones:4b to 8
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, rich, acidic soil

These unique blossoms will leave you starry-eyed We each have had a long love affair with Asiatic gentians, and this shared passion for them reached a climax, so to speak, back in 1997. We first met on a plant-hunting expedition to China in late September of that year, and it was while standing at 10,000 feet looking out over damp, grassy meadows alight with the vibrant blue flowers of Gentiana sino-ornata that we became smitten—with not only the plant, but also with each other.

The straight species is typically a deep blue with pale striping. ‘Stardust’ is a fantastic selection, which features trumpets of alternating white and sky blue petals. This plant does exceptionally well in cooler climates (Zones 4–6) where it flowers from late summer through fall. ‘Stardust’ Asiatic gentian forms a small, deciduous mat. At first glance, you might confuse it with creeping phlox (Phlox subulata and cvs., Zones 3–9) because of its similar soft, needlelike green leaves and lax stems, which root along their length and create new crowns for next year. As summer wanes, any similarity to phlox is put to bed, though, when the multitude of 2-inch-long flowers put on their show. In winter, the foliage and stems die back to overwintering buds. If you love this plant as much as we do, you’ll likely want to make more, which is easily done by division in spring. ‘Stardust’ Asiatic gentian has been a good performer in our sunny, moist garden. Each fall when it flowers, stardust fills our eyes and we marvel at how our love for plants— and each other—remains undimmed over the decades. If a plant can do that for you, isn’t it worth a try?

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken grow some of the coolest plants on the planet at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.

Cranberry myrtle (Myrteola nummularia)
 
Zones: 7-9
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained, acidic soil

Although this awesome plant was discovered in Tierra del Fuego sphagnum bogs and botanically rendered in watercolor during Captain Cook’s first Pacific voyage on the Endeavor in the late 1700s, it inexplicably has remained on the fringes of mainstream gardening. We think that almost 250 years is a long-enough trial period, and it’s time for this old debutante to make an entrance. One of the hardiest members of the vastly ornamental myrtle family, this is a wiry-stemmed ground cover with glossy, evergreen leaves that color up a bit with the cold of winter. Pixie-white scented flowers are an amusebouche to the entrée of long-lasting showy fruit.

A lot of the fun with cranberry myrtle is simply watching the fruit ripen over the course of 2 to 3 months. There are those poor unenlightened souls not into plants who might think this akin to watching paint dry, but we find it to be high drama. Immature, pale white fruit brighten then blush with pink before finally turning a clear, deep pink, signaling an end to our eager anticipation.

These little round berries are edible, with strong notes of wintergreen, spruce tips, and floral perfume. We can almost imagine the scent being carried on the everpresent winds surrounding Cape Horn. Sitting on your garden patio during a fine Indian summer afternoon, you’ll embrace your good fortune at being at the nexus of a perfect intersection between function and ornamentation as you float 3 of your own locally sourced small fruits in your gin and tonic. The only thing better than this moment would be if the drink was one of FG Editor Steve Aitken’s signature G&Ts.

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken grow some of the coolest plants on the planet at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.
Creeping honeysuckle (Lonicera crassifolia)
 
ZONES: 5 to 9
CONDITIONS: Full sun to partial shade; well drained soil

There is nothing “crass” about this sophisticated plant except the portion of the botanical species name, which actually means “thick-leaved.” On the contrary, this may well be the woody ground cover you have always envisioned but never found.
Gorgeous small, rounded evergreen leaves take on bronzy to plum tones in winter depending on exposure and climate. These leaves crowd the thin, wiry stems, which root as they travel along the ground and surf over low boulders and logs in their path. Creeping honeysuckle is easy to control, though, as it is shallow-rooted with no underground runners. Planted on a wall or steep slope, it flows down like an appealing green waterfall. This plant is also great for under-planting below larger shrubs. Its growth rate is manageable, spreading 12 to 18_inches per year. This dense foliage is the perfect stage for the white flower buds set in small fuchsia-pink sleeves, which morph into amber-yellow blossoms exploding with pale stamens. The display is best described as subtly awesome. The small flowers are unmistakably honeysuckle, although their sole—yet forgivable—fault is the lack of intoxicating fragrance. But neither we, nor the hummingbirds, mind a bit.
To our knowledge, all plants offered in North America come from a single clone plant introduced by Steve Hootman, director of the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Washington. Being a single clone, this plant has never set fruit, which eliminates any invasive potential. Sometimes you see plants with odd initials and numbers like the “SEH 085” that sometimes appears in conjunction with this plant. These refer to documented botanical collecting expeditions. In this case, it is Steve’s initials before his 85th collection of the trip. Whenever we see collector numbers such as this, the plant takes on an allure imbued with the mystery, romance, and travails of plant hunting in faraway places.
—Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken grow some of the coolest plants on the planet at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.
Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.
King ’s Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum kingianum)
 
Most of us have a clear mental picture of what Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) looks like: a clump of 3-foot-tall arching stems with green-tipped white bells dangling beneath broad leaves. Many of the dozens of species that inhabit North America, Europe, Russia, and Asia do look exactly like this, but when you delve deeper into this genus, your preconceptions will undergo a seismic shift. There are actually evergreen epiphytic species in Vietnam, tiny alpine species at 13,000 feet in Bhutan, and everything in between. King’s Solomon’s seal is arguably the monarch of the bunch with a commanding presence.

Smoky spears of new growth appear in midspring, and as the leaves expand, you know immediately this plant is some- thing special. Slugs home in on this eminence and like logging the newly emerged shoots, so be vigilant in spring to keep them away. Narrow grassy leaf blades soon appear in whorls and are ranked in spoked sets along the stem. The leaves are tipped with small hooks that grasp neighboring twigs for sup- port. This is a necessary adaptation as the stems of a mature plant can reach 10 feet or more in a favorable climate.

Every king has his crown, and the crown jewels in this case are the flowers. Clustered in the leaf axils are groups of pen- dant, orange-red flowers tipped in green. Once they’re polli- nated, the result is sizable green fruits. Grow this regal plant, and you’ll never look at Solomon’s seals the same way. It can take a few years for plants to reach maturity, so be patient. After all, one expects to be kept waiting by royalty.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.

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